Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ten years on

I had been out of grad school for a couple of years, but I was still keeping grad school hours.  Having stayed up very late the night before and not having to teach that day, I was exhausted and intent on sleeping in.  So when my wife tried to wake me before leaving for work, I barely registered what she was telling me.  World Trade Center?  Airplanes?  What the hell is she talking about?  Doesn’t she know I’m not going to get anything done today if I don’t get some rest?  I rolled over, weariness, irritation, and confusion drowning curiosity, and fell back asleep.

Some time later I woke up again.  The edge had been taken off exhaustion and curiosity took control.  As I lay there rubbing the sleep from my eyes I tried to remember.  What was it that she had said?  Something weird.  I got up and turned on the TV. 

Even more than the astounding images, I will always remember that bulletin staring out matter-of-factly from the bottom of the screen.  “World Trade Center Destroyed.”  It was like something out of a movie, or a nightmare, or a Jack Kirby comic book.  There will never be any way to describe it without resorting to clichés.  I had been there once, years before, at the Windows on the World restaurant.  Now it was empty space.  Or empty, anyway, apart from smoke and dust.  

For most of the nineties I had been an atheist, though a decreasingly smug one.  The rethink started when I was still in graduate school, when I began to study the arguments of writers like Aquinas and Leibniz in greater depth, so that I could try to help the undergraduates I was teaching understand why anyone had ever taken this stuff seriously.  By the summer of 2001 I was trying to argue my wife’s physicist brother-in-law into philosophical theism on the train the four of us were taking from Oswiecim to Prague.  Or maybe it was on the train from Prague to Berlin.  Naturally, the horrors of Nazism and Communism were on our minds.  That was all in the past, thank God.

Catholicism was also on the argumentative agenda, and the London leg of our trip included the customary visit to Foyles and a stack of Catholic books alongside the usual philosophical stuff.  Officially, I was still non-committal on Catholicism.  There were a few more i’s to dot and t’s yet to cross.  One could take one’s time, and besides, there was much to admire in other religions.  It may have been during that trip that my wife and I spotted a young Muslim man on the Underground.  He stood out because of his garb, and because he seemed to be absorbed in prayer.  I would remark to her that he might be the most serious human being on the whole train.  After all, what were the others thinking about?   Where to have lunch?  Which DVD to watch that evening?  Pop stars and surfing porn?  Yet his thoughts were evidently focused on the First Cause of the universe.  I respected that enormously wherever I saw it, and still do.   In other respects, I was to become less ecumenical.  

Though I had been something of a theist for a while, September 11, 2001 may have been the first time in many years that I had myself actually prayed, at least on my knees.  It may also have been the first time I ever wept over some distant event, a televised calamity happening to others.  

The nineties and all their foolishness were over, for our country and for me.  I was in my early thirties.  By year’s end, we would be expecting our first child, and I would return to Holy Mother Church.  It was a time to get serious.

59 comments:

Alan Aversa said...

I guess I assumed you were a "cradle Catholic." Now that I know you were an atheist, that is yet another reason for me to read your book on the New Atheism; you probably have an "insider's perspective."

Edward Feser said...

Hi Alan,

I was raised a Catholic, but by the time I was a teenager I had been suckered by the standard arguments to the effect that Catholicism is "unbiblical" etc. And by my early twenties the standard atheist arguments turned me away from religion altogether.

I was the original New Atheist, and went through the usual stages. Stage 1, the Angry Young Atheist, reading everything I could get my hands on critical of religion and endlessly and condescendingly arguing with my religious friends. Call it the "Everything I Need to Know I Learned from Prometheus Books" stage. Though I was also a big Nietzsche and Walter Kaufmann fan, which I liked to think gave me a little more depth.

Then I reached Stage 2, what we might call the Keith Parsons Stage: I "knew" that religion wasn't even worth arguing about any more because the arguments for it were "obviously" so bad. Time was better devoted to More Serious Things. Sola Scientia! Well, and naturalistic philosophy, of course. What a stupid a***ole I was.

So, arguing with these people is like arguing with my younger self. Only I find that they are even more stupid and ill-informed than I was. Scary!

Joe Zenteno said...

So Ed, in short, why is it Catholicism and not Islam or Orthodoxy or Mormonism or some Protestant denomination?

Emanuel. said...

Isn't islam committed to a truth-transcending concept of God? That would make islam incompatible with classical theism. There's a reason why Averroes and Avicenna are considered heretics and were banished.

James said...

@Edward Feser:

I was the original New Atheist

I seem to recall you mentioning in The Last Superstition that, even while an atheist, you nevertheless thought that (e.g.) Daniel Dennett was rather a blowhard. If unmistaken I believe it was in the midst of a plea for the reader not to be too hard on you — should we reconsider that? ;)

Although a former thoroughgoing materialist and even once a teenage Randian, I never thought religious belief was so very stupid. This is probably because very early on I was — by way of Brand Blanshard — inoculated against failure to take others’ views seriously.

Even now, however, I find it very difficult to believe in the dicta of any particular organized religion; converts such as you intrigue me. I am unable to discern the nature of the gulf that has you on your knees praying but me shrugging my shoulders and sighing.

sharq said...

@Emanuel,

"Isn't islam committed to a truth-transcending concept of God? That would make islam incompatible with classical theism. There's a reason why Averroes and Avicenna are considered heretics and were banished."

I don't mean for the subject of this post to change directions but, no, Islam isn't committed to such a concept of God. That view is only held by a particular (although the most dominant in Sunni Islam) school of thought i.e., the Asharites. So, it isn't at all 'the' standard view. Also, even later theologians of that school developed certain nuances in their positions (on this question) as a result of their interactions with the Muslim philosophers which i can get into at the moment, but in the least which weren't entirely suggestive of a truth-transcending conception of God.

Regarding Avicenna and Averroes, that also isn't the case. In fact, most Islamic philosophers and non-Asharite theologians (past and present) have not and do not consider them heretics or anything of the sort, especially Averroes who was not only a jurist (a doctor of Islamic law) but also the chief judge of Cordoba. It is inconceivable for a heretic to have held such positions.

Edward Feser said...

So Ed, in short, why is it Catholicism and not Islam or Orthodoxy or Mormonism or some Protestant denomination?

Well, Joseph, it's hard to give a short answer to that question, but if I had to try to give one I would say that there is no way that a divine revelation could be effective unless it is conveyed through an ongoing institution, and one with an executive having power to settle disputes. And that means a Church, and a Pope. But again, that's only the short answer.

I seem to recall you mentioning in The Last Superstition that, even while an atheist, you nevertheless thought that (e.g.) Daniel Dennett was rather a blowhard.

Yes, James, I always thought Dennett in particular was a blowhard, and that had to do not just with the things he's said about religion but also with his work in philosophy of mind, where he has also always had a tendency to attack straw men, condescend toward critics of materialism, substitute rhetoric for argument, and so forth. That doesn't mean that his work is never interesting and important. Sometimes it is both. But the weaknesses of his (quite awful) stuff on religion had precursors in his earlier, more technical philosophical work.

The point of those remarks in TLS was also to indicate that even when I was an atheist I thought there was a kind of depth to at least certain kinds of religion that most New Atheist types don't want to acknowledge. That's why I said above that I thought my fondness for writers like Nietzsche and Walter Kaufmann -- who always emphasized that religion was a serious thing, even though they rejected it -- made my own atheism more serious. The Kaufmann-style atheist says "I can't believe this stuff for a minute, but I can see that the life of a really devout believer has a kind of admirable gravitas." New Atheist types typically don't have the decency or humanity even to allow that much. They're vulgar ideologues, who insist on seeing nothing in religion but stupidity and evil. And I don't think I was ever quite that bad, even though I could certainly be condescending. ("Yes, I can respect that, but I am beyond that sort of thing" -- that was more my attitude.)

Brian said...

Orthodoxy, Protestantism, and Mormonism? Only an atheist or someone otherwise unfamiliar with the history of Christianity would think those are actually options. There is a famous Protestant seminary instructor, and on the first day of class, he tells his students that Catholicism is the DEFAULT for Christianity - he tells them that you have to wake up each and every morning and make a decision not to be Catholic and have reasons for that decision. And it's clear why: it's clear from history (and Scripture) that the Catholic Church is the Church Christ founded. If you accept the Christian Revelation, Catholicism is inevitable. A Protestant or a Mormon, to be Protestant or Mormon, has to posit that at some point in this Church's history, it fell away or went out of existence and that their particular group represents a restoration. It's fantasy.

Islam, well, I admit that I didn't evaluate it specifically, but knowing Catholicism to be true, it just exludes any other religion. But it is my understanding that Islam's founder doesn't even claim any miracle to support his revelation, except for the Qu'ran itself. By contrast, Christ, the apostles, the saints, and the Church in every generation has been a fount of countless miracles that have been attested rigorously and so forth.

James said...

@Brian:

Orthodoxy, Protestantism, and Mormonism? Only an atheist or someone otherwise unfamiliar with the history of Christianity would think those are actually options.

An interesting claim — I’ll have to tell my cousin and her husband, who converted to Orthodoxy after a great deal of research and prayer, that they in fact are either atheists or unfamiliar with the history of Christianity. But I warn you that they will very likely disagree with me. ;)

In all seriousness, there are too many otherwise very intelligent protestants, Orthodox, and (maybe) even Mormons to doubt that those seem like real options.

Brian said...

In all seriousness, there are too many otherwise very intelligent protestants, Orthodox, and (maybe) even Mormons to doubt that those seem like real options.

Orthodoxy has much more historical credibility than the others, so maybe I overplayed my hand on that one. But I still standby what I said, absolutely. Many intelligent people are heretics, schismatics - even worse, many intelligent people are atheists! There are many ordinary reasons, though, why they are all in error because, at the end of the day, they are all still human.

Please do discuss this with your cousin. Ask them why they are in schism from Peter.

beng said...

James,

IMO the simplest reason why Orthodox can not be the true Church Christ funded is because they bailed at a valid ecumenical council of Florence where all the Patriarchs and its representatives were present. Only one Orthodox representative disagree to Florentine decrees (Mark Eugenicos, the Metropolitan of Ephesus). But then the whole Orthodox Churches recanted even their own infallible doctrine stated the infallibility of ecumenical councils.


For Protestantisme, the simplest reason for their exclusion from Christ Church is the fact that they were established 15 centuries after Christ died and founded His Church. So it's impossible that they are the true Church (where were they 15 centuries ago?)

beng said...

Correction:

But then the whole Orthodox Churches recanted even their own infallible doctrine stated the infallibility of ecumenical councils.


Supposed to say:

But then the whole Orthodox Churches recanted even when their own infallible doctrine stated the infallibility of ecumenical councils.

James said...

@Brian and beng:

Honestly, that’s all well and good when considered as arguments that Roman Catholicism is the true Church. My intent is not to argue for or against any particular claim but rather to note that alternatives such as Orthodoxy or protestantism are clearly not obviously, immediately false to the searching layman.

Bobcat said...

Isn't it possible for Jesus to found a church on Peter, and then Peter's descendants gradually move away from what Jesus intended, so the holy spirit moves Luther to split off from the Catholic Church? I'm not saying I believe this, but isn't this metaphysically possible?

I mean, I'm a bit loathe to say that Christian philosophers such as Alvin Plantinga, Robert Adams, Marilyn Adams, Peter van Inwagen, and George Mavrodes just kind of missed the fact that the churches they belong to started more than fifteen centuries after Jesus' death.

Roy IV said...

Bobcat,

Are you asking whether it is metaphysically possible for Jesus to make a mistake?

Richard A said...

Bobcat,

I think you would rather refer to Peter's "successors" than his "descendants".

Consider the claim, though, that Ed found compelling. If you accept that there was a divine revelation given to a man or group of men, who are obliged to preach that revelation to all men throughout time, then there must be a knowable human institution that can continually and reliably preach that revelation to each age. If Peter's successors - by which I understand you to mean the successors of all the apostles - gradually move away from that revelation, who could know it and reliably demonstrate that such a movement had occurred? That individual, or group of individuals, would then have to have been the original and ongoing custodians of that revelation, and knowably so. Who are reasonable candidates for that institution?

Richard A said...

Bobcat,

I, for one, am more loathe to say that Christian philosophers such as Augustine, Leo, Gregory, Bede, Anselm, Bernard and Aquinas just kind of missed that fact the Church they belonged to wasn't there.

Brian said...

Honestly, that’s all well and good when considered as arguments that Roman Catholicism is the true Church. My intent is not to argue for or against any particular claim but rather to note that alternatives such as Orthodoxy or protestantism are clearly not obviously, immediately false to the searching layman.

Orthodoxy, maybe not. It requires a bit more discussion, but not much. But yes, Protestantism is a joke, a total janky, awful, ugly mess. It is obviously false.

Alyosha said...

Joe,

I can't speak for Ed, but I wouldn't mind telling you why I am a Catholic as opposed to Orthodox, Protestant, or LDS. My opinion is rather different than Brian’s. But, like Ed, I can’t pursue it too great of detail. I was raised a fundamentalist protestant in Utah and southeast Idaho (where the LDS population is often more dense than in Utah). After discussing matters of religion with friends and others I came to the uncomfortable conclusion that much of what I believed was incorrect and that I had been ill-equipped to form the kinds of conclusions I had, let alone to have held to them so dogmatically.

I read some more orthodox literature along the lines of Evangelical protestant philosophers and C.S. Lewis, and developed a love for philosophy and theology which I decided to pursue academically. I also became immersed in apologetics. For several years I debated which direction I should go and what religion or church seemed the most correct and I was drawn inevitably toward more orthodox theology. I considered the LDS church, but could never believe that it was an actual restoration, or any good reason to accept it. Also, I found the LDS church to be devoid of light and clarity. The deeper one delves into Mormonism, the vaguer and less substantial it gets. I was struck by three particular expressions that summed up well my own conclusions about orthodox theology. First was C.S. Lewis’s comment that he believed in Christianity as he believed the sun has risen, not only because he saw it, but because by it he saw everything else. The second was Anselm’s notion of a faith seeking understanding. In my own case, I wasn’t merely seeking an understanding of the faith, but an understanding of everything else, and I found that a growth in one produced in me a growth in the other. The third expression is the scholastic idea that theology is the queen of the sciences.

In short, I became convinced of Christianity in general because I found light in it. I found clarity, and answers, a general perspective of everything that clarified and illuminated. My question changed from “Which church is true?” to “What is the truth?” and as I pursued an answer to that question I wandered from fundamentalist considering Mormonism to Evangelical considering Orthodoxy or High Anglicanism, to definite Catholic. I wanted to avoid the Catholic church primarily due to certain prejudices I had developed as a fundamentalist, but I became conscious of the fact that I was becoming more and more Catholic in my theology all the time and had better give it a fair listen. The works of Pope Benedict XVI (then Cardinal Ratzinger) broke down whatever prejudices I had left. My “leap of faith” amounted to a final consent to acknowledge where my intellectual journey had lead me. Since my homecoming, I’ve found a great body of peers, many with stories just like my own. And, to be honest, I have found more companionship, and of a deeper and more substantial form than I ever had before.

James said...

@Brian:

But yes, Protestantism is a joke, a total janky, awful, ugly mess. It is obviously false.

Well, fair enough — but that pretty much brings discussion to a screeching halt. I simply can’t square the existence of otherwise brilliant, highly knowledgable protestants with protestantism being an “obviously false” “ugly mess”. Ultimately false, maybe I’ll grant you (although nominally theistic I do not follow a religion), but out of respect for those who follow particular religions, I cannot assume they are only convinced out of ignorance.

James said...

I should say: out of ignorance of what is, purportedly, obvious and undeniable.

BenYachov said...

For me it would be either Catholicism or Orthodoxy.

I wouldn't even consider Protestantism even thought I respect the heck out of a lot of great Protestant thinkers and scholars.

BenYachov said...

BTW I think I see James' point(maybe because we have the same name)?

William Lane Craig is a very intelligent Protestant & rational person even thought he is not Catholic.

But personally I don't find Protestant a credible religion but others more intellegent then me like Craig disagree. but others as intelligent as Craig do agree with me.

We must not fall into the Gnu trap of "You are wrong therefore you are stupid".

We must be better than mere Gnu's. Which really isn't hard btw.;-)

Brian said...

Please note what I said: at the end of the day, they are all still human. I did not say that they are all stupid. Alyosha briefly discussed this, but many non-Catholic Christians and non-Christians have been raised with many false assumptions and prejudices about the Catholic Church. Think of someone like CS Lewis, an intelligent Christian if there was one, and, as anyone familiar with his biography knows, his prejudices about the Catholic Church prevented him from becoming Catholic. So yeah, there are plenty of ordinary reasons why otherwise intelligent people would miss the obvious.

And it is obvious. Does any Catholic here seriously disagree that Protestantism is about as obviously ahistorical and erroneous as it can get? You can actually pinpoint the time, place, and people involved in this heresy. Alister McGrath and many other Protestant historians have no problem acknowledging that Protestant distinctives like sola Scriptura and sola Fide are total innovations - in other words, people made them up, and those people were not authorized like the apostles were. So why are these intelligent guys still Protestant? I dunno.

Alyosha said...

James,

I should also mention that I have a great deal of respect for a number of non-Catholic scholars. Alvin Plantinga, N.T. Wright, William Lane Craig, J.P. Moreland and Dallas Willard were all (as well as others) important figures for me. I think where I would diverge from Brian is that I don’t think Protestantism is “obviously” wrong. I think it is wrong and that sufficient knowledge would reveal that fact, but I don’t think it is a matter which could be settled (especially in historical terms) without some study. Even the conclusions of someone like McGrath are the product of scholarship. One cannot identify a historical innovation without considerable knowledge of history. My own road to Catholicism wasn’t so much a clear course as groping for understanding.

So, the reasons why intelligent people are not Catholic are as numerous as the intelligent people who are not Catholic. Some are as petty as mere bias. Some are the results of strong (and reasoned) convictions about the proper exegesis of key passages of scripture. But, I would hesitate to say what is obvious, as what is obvious is largely dependent on how much one knows (as well as how much one only thinks one knows).

One Brow said...

Roy IV said...
Are you asking whether it is metaphysically possible for Jesus to make a mistake?

What would the mistake in question be? If Jesus does not have perfect foreknowledge when he selects Peter, is it not possible Peter is the best choice with the knowledge Jesus has at hand (and maybe the best choice possible) without everything working out perfectly?

Richard A said...

Brian,

Well, of course it's obvious to you and me - we're Catholics. I'd like to sit down with that professor you mentioned (I have it in my head that it was Paul Tillich, but I can't put my finger on it now. And he's been dead for a while) and find out more about what he meant. Something about what you're saying was obvious to him as well, but somehow he managed to come up with reasons every day to not become Catholic.

Axe Head said...

I know for a fact Peter made errors:

"But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed.

"For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision.

"And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation.

"But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?"

Galatians 2:11-14.

Thank God for Paul, who set Peter--and all those who followed him, including even Barnabas--straight.

wawawewa said...

I like Eastern Orthodoxy a lot. As a lapsed Catholic looking to return to Christianity, I considered Orthodoxy after attending one of their beautiful long liturgies. Liturgy matters a lot to me since it is a measure of the seriousness of the congregation. A reverent celebration means that the clergy and the believers are serious about worship.

In the end, I returned to Catholicism after attending the Traditional Mass, which I greatly enjoy. Plus, I grew up in it and it had been the faith of my family for many generations.

I still like the Orthodox a lot. Their theology is quite solid, although many of them have a very strange bias against Aquinas that I've never fully understood.

James said...

@Brian:

So yeah, there are plenty of ordinary reasons why otherwise intelligent people would miss the obvious.

Well … yes. It would be my contention that the existence of “plenty of ordinary reasons” for intelligent persons to believe Protestantism is sufficient demonstration that denial of Protestantism isn’t just obvious.

Regardless, I think there’s some common ground here. Let’s meet in the middle and agree that LDS is prima facie very silly? Secret underwear, masonic handshakes, everybody gets a planet? What’s up with that? ;)

Richard A said...

I think it starts with "I have a special revelation from God on tablets that only I can read. And by the way, only I can look at the tablets. So there."

Brian said...

James would you say the same thing about people who deny evolution? A lot of intelligent people deny it. Does that mean it's not obvious?

James said...

A lot of intelligent people deny [evolution]. Does that mean it's not obvious?

An evolutionary explanation for the origin of species is by no means obvious at first glance, although living in the modern era most of the hard work with respect to proposing and developing the theory has already been done. You’re right that I can’t say why someone in possession of the relevant facts would disagree with me.

But I can point out two reasons these two scenarios are not comparable: the *overwhelming* majority of biologists hold that some variation of evolutionary theory is true; this is demonstrably not the case for ministers and theologians vis-à-vis Catholicism v. Protestantism. In the latter case someone could very reasonably get the idea that there is controversy.

Further, the proportion of individuals with open minds toward scientific explanation who disbelieve evolution is much lower than the proportion of intelligent and well-read Christians who are not Catholic. So maybe it’s not that un-obvious after all.

Anonymous said...

@Axe Head:

Peter's errors were not doctrinal but disciplinary. He took the disciplinary practices of the judaizers to be legitimate in a gesture of imprudent ecumenism. But there is no recorded evidence that he taught their heresy as theological truth. Paul's fraternal correction is not a repudiation of Peter's teaching but of his actions. This protestant argument against papal teaching authority fails.

Untenured said...

I too like Eastern Orthodoxy. But I suspect that there is a quasi-Hegelian argument for Catholicism and against Orthodoxy.

Orthodox churches have valid sacraments and an (almost) correct theology. Nonetheless, they have devolved into a collection of ethnic/national church bodies that exercise no genuine authority. They have not participated in any of the ecumenical councils aside from the first seven, and they have effectively taken a "holiday from history". For all of the beauty of their liturgy and depth of their spirituality, they have been feckless.

The Catholic Church, on the other hand, has maintained its spiritual authority and has never taken a "holiday" from history. It has retained theological orthodoxy, and it has also retained its ability to be a "universal" institution. Can the myriad of ethnically bound Orthodox churches say the same? To my mind, this historical argument is the tie-breaker between Catholicism and Orthodoxy.

Mark Szlazak said...

I have no problem with the arguments for God being the ultimate cause and sustainer of our reality.

I can even accept that Jesus was brought back from the dead.

The problem I have is why does that make Jesus god-like or even be the authority when it comes to the afterlife, God and so on?

There have been many credible reports now and in the past of people seeing dead relatives come visiting and even appearing in what seemed to be the flesh. Just look in the parapsychology literature. So what makes the Jesus resurrection so special?

However, if unique then what does that prove? It just shows he had better paranormal/spiritual abilities than anyone so far or that we know of.

Also, why not suspect one other alternative. Aliens like the kind that fly around in flying saucers brought him back as part of some kind of experiment. The current evidence for UFO's is overwhelming despite denials so this doesn't sound that far-fetched.

Now if we have gotten past all this and Jesus is the real deal then what do we really believe in the bible can be attributed to what he thought and said?

Gail F said...

From a practical standpoint, I think that when you are in the middle of Protestantism, it's difficult to see that it's obviously false. You are wandering around in the shadows, as it were, looking for which shadow is lightest. And people do wander around, switching from denomination to denomination more or less happily, all their lives. Or they stick right where they are, more or less happily, all their lives.

When you are outside Protestantism -- a Catholic, an agnostic, an atheist -- it is easier to see the whole of Christianity. Some folks broke off, some went off the deep end, the folks that broke off had folks that broke off, and they had folks that broke off... it is not close to being universal. The Protestants don't even all consider each other to all be Christians. Some consider most people to be Christians, some consider everyone but Catholics to be Christians, some consider no one but themselves to be Christians... it is a big huge mess, and the Protestants only get along as much as they do by agreeing to ignore each other's differences and concentrate on what's the same.

Within that tradition, you can be extremely intelligent and a wonderful person. You start with your tradition and go on from there (although many people who look back do become Catholic). The Catholic Church has been around for 2000 years and doesn't change its mind every couple of years. Also, as someone commented, it didn't effectively stand still and turn into a collection of local churches as the Orthodox did.

So yes, I think that many (not all!!) intelligent people looking at Christianity end up thinking something along the lines of: These little churches are nice, should I pick one that does everything exactly the way I like it, and agrees with me about everything? Or should I go all the way and become Catholic?

Daniel Smith said...

Brian: "A Protestant or a Mormon, to be Protestant or Mormon, has to posit that at some point in this Church's history, it fell away or went out of existence and that their particular group represents a restoration."

Not necessarily. We don't have to believe "our group" to be a "restoration" in order to believe that the Catholic church lost its way. Have you never read the Old Testament? It tells the story of a people who were almost constantly falling away from God - though there was always a remnant who remained faithful.

Why is the Catholic church any different? Why is it so hard to believe that a group of people can be fallible?

It is my belief that "the church" is a spiritual entity made up of all true believers. It is not - nor has it ever been - an institution of man, be it Protestant or Catholic.

I came to this conclusion in exactly the opposite way from Dr. Feser. I was raised a Catholic but could not wait to turn 18 so I could quit going to church! I floundered around for a couple years, then decided to commit myself to God. I did this on my own, in my bedroom, kneeling down before an open Catholic bible.

The transformation wasn't immediate, but it was just a short time later when I noticed that the bible was coming alive to me (I still was not attending any church yet.) I decided to go to the library and research denominations - but never got anywhere. I eventually ended up back at the Catholic church my parents attended, but it seemed that what I was hearing didn't coincide with the scriptures I'd been devouring. It was after a long discussion with the priest that I realized I was not a Catholic.

After that I moved from one Protestant church to another, but noticed the same disturbing trend in all of them - most of what was preached did not coincide with the simple truths that were becoming ingrained in me. I became so frustrated that I became what I am today: a non-church-attending believer.

I don't know if I'm right or wrong, but I've yet to find a church where I feel comfortable with what's being taught.

Gail F said...

Daniel Smith: So you are the only person who knows the truth? The Bible is so incredibly clear in what it means that it is obvious to you but no one else on earth? Really?

It sounds like the "spiritual church made up of true believers" you posit doesn't have any other believers.

I'm not attacking you, just pointing out that your post isn't persuasive. Where did that Bible you base everything on come from? What did Christians do before there was a Bible?

Brian said...

A non-church attending believer. We see the reductio ad absurdum of Protestantism.

Daniel Smith:

http://www.calledtocommunion.com/

"The Catholic Controversy"
"The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism"

http://www.calledtocommunion.com/library/suggested-reading/

^Get to it. You have an obligation to your parents, at the very least, to get to the bottom of this. Take it seriously.

Daniel Smith said...

Gail F: "So you are the only person who knows the truth?"

I'll be the first to admit that I am only vaguely aware of the truth. My point is, after 31 years of careful examination of all manner of competing doctrines and dogmas, I have come to believe that all are in the same boat as me! So no, I am not claiming that I'm somehow all alone in a different (better) boat than anyone else. I just don't trust men to give me the scoop on God. Sorry - that's how I am.

"The Bible is so incredibly clear in what it means that it is obvious to you but no one else on earth? Really?"

Parts of it are incredibly clear and easy to understand (things like turning the other cheek for instance.) Other parts, not so much. It's the incredibly clear parts that so many ignore (and I include myself in that number.)

"It sounds like the "spiritual church made up of true believers" you posit doesn't have any other believers."

I often wonder if I'm a part of it. I hope so, but I know my own sins and how I fail God every day. My only hope is the grace of God.

Daniel Smith said...

Brian: "You have an obligation to your parents, at the very least, to get to the bottom of this."

My parents are no longer Catholic. I may have contributed to that somewhat. It's a long story.

machinephilosophy said...

"alternatives such as Orthodoxy or protestantism are clearly not obviously, immediately false to the searching layman."

Good point.

And who is it that arbitrates the issue to oneself? Oneself. Necessarily. So the individual has a set of candidate claims to adjudicate using criteria that is assumed to be up to the task. We both reference a God-level or God-like structure of evaluative analysis and also -play- God as chief determining officer in that process.

beng said...

Daniel Smith

Not necessarily. We don't have to believe "our group" to be a "restoration" in order to believe that the Catholic church lost its way. Have you never read the Old Testament? It tells the story of a people who were almost constantly falling away from God - though there was always a remnant who remained faithful.


Pray tell which remnant, stretching all the way back from 33AD to 2011, that you currently follow?

Thomas de Aquino said...

Daniel Smith:

"Parts of it are incredibly clear and easy to understand (things like turning the other cheek for instance.)"

I'm not so sure about this:

St. Augustine:

"13. In fine, that these precepts pertain rather to the inward disposition of the heart than to the actions which are done in the sight of men, requiring us, in the inmost heart, to cherish patience along with benevolence, but in the outward action to do that which seems most likely to benefit those whose good we ought to seek, is manifest from the fact that our Lord Jesus Himself, our perfect example of patience, when He was smitten on the face, answered: "If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil, but if not, why do you smite me?" John 18:23 If we look only to the words, He did not in this obey His own precept, for He did not present the other side of his face to him who had smitten Him but, on the contrary, prevented him who had done the wrong from adding thereto; and yet He had come prepared not only to be smitten on the face, but even to be slain upon the cross for those at whose hands He suffered crucifixion, and for whom, when hanging on the cross, He prayed, "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do!" Luke 23:34 In like manner, the Apostle Paul seems to have failed to obey the precept of his Lord and Master, when he, being smitten on the face as He had been, said to the chief priest: "God shall smite you, you whited wall, for do you sit to judge me after the law, and commandest me to be smitten contrary to the law?" And when it was said by them that stood near, "Do you revile God's high priest?" he took pains sarcastically to indicate what his words meant, that those of them who were discerning might understand that now the whited wall, i.e. the hypocrisy of the Jewish priesthood, was appointed to be thrown down by the coming of Christ; for He said: "I knew not, brethren, that he was the high priest, for it is written, You shall not speak evil of the ruler of your people;" Acts 23:3-5 although it is perfectly certain that he who had grown up in that nation and had been in that place trained in the law, could not but know that his judge was the chief priest, and could not, by professing ignorance on this point, impose upon those to whom he was so well known."

http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/16011.htm

Daniel Smith said...

beng: "Pray tell which remnant, stretching all the way back from 33AD to 2011, that you currently follow?"

I am a Christian.

Daniel Smith said...

Thomas de Aquino: "I'm not so sure about this:"

In neither of the examples cited did the person struck strike back. That's the clear meaning of "turning the other cheek" for me.

We could argue scriptural interpretation all day and get nowhere. You've probably been conditioned to accept only the Catholic interpretation so there will be no convincing you of anything that ventures outside of that.

What I truly believe is that the seeker of truth will find it, but only in a measure proportional to their willingness to be changed by it.

I've got a looooong way to go.

Thomas de Aquino said...

Daniel Smith:

"In neither of the examples cited did the person struck strike back."

Not physically, but they struck back verbally.

"That's the clear meaning of "turning the other cheek" for me."

How do you reconcile this meaning with the duties of a soldier? Or of someone who needs to defend his loved ones by physical force?

"You've probably been conditioned to accept only the Catholic interpretation so there will be no convincing you of anything that ventures outside of that."

I'm not a dog or parrot or something. I was not conditioned to accept only the Catholic interpretation. I was reasoned into it

PS: Sorry, I gave the wrong link. Here is the right one:

http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1102138.htm

beng said...

Daniel Smith

I'm a Christian


Which Christian?

But you said yourselves there are remnant who keep the true faith. Which one? (it goes without saying that this remnant must go back from 2011AD to 33AD).

Anonymous said...

Rev14:12 "Here is the patience of the saints, here are they that keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus" This remnant! Blessings.

Daniel Smith said...

beng: "Which Christian?"

To paraphrase the Apostle: "One of you says, “I follow the pope”; another, “I follow Luther”; another, “I follow Calvin”; still another, “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was the pope crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Luther?"

"But you said yourselves there are remnant who keep the true faith. Which one? (it goes without saying that this remnant must go back from 2011AD to 33AD)."

Their names are written in the Lamb's Book of Life. I don't claim to know who is and isn't a true believer - only God knows for sure.

Daniel Smith said...

Thomas de Aquino: "Not physically, but they struck back verbally."

Jesus and Paul often attacked their opponents verbally. There is no prohibition against honesty! And "turning the other cheek" does not imply otherwise to me.

"How do you reconcile this meaning with the duties of a soldier? Or of someone who needs to defend his loved ones by physical force?"

By using the bible to interpret the bible. Jesus often talked to soldiers and never once told them that killing in defense of country or family was wrong.

"I was reasoned into it"

Then (theoretically at least) you can be reasoned out of it.

Brian said...

Daniel Smith, you don't know that you don't know. You know those smug, ignorant atheists that come to this site and no next to nothing about philosophy or theology - well, you are nothing quite like that, but I only draw the comparison in this narrow sense: you are articulating thoughts that you don't know are incoherent. So only God knows who is a true believer? That means that you don't know that you are a true believer.

Protestantism is really a janky, janky mess. Your site says that you are Thomist, so perhaps I am not mistaken in assuming that you agree with Feser about the errors of modern philosophy - how janky it is. I think you will be as refreshed when you study historic and orthodox Christianity. I will post again links that I really hope you read:

Christ Founded a Visible Church: http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2009/06/christ-founded-a-visible-church/

St. Thomas Aquinas on the Relation of Faith to the Church:
http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2010/02/st-thomas-aquinas-on-the-relation-of-faith-to-the-church/

Ecclesial Deism: http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2009/07/ecclesial-deism/

Holy Orders and the Sacrificial Priesthood:
http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2010/05/holy-orders-and-the-priesthood/

The Issue of Authority in Early Christianity:
http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2010/06/the-issue-of-authority-in-early-christianity/

Why Protestantism has no "visible catholic Church":
http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2009/09/why-protestantism-has-no-visible-catholic-church/

Wilson vs. Hitchens: A Catholic Perspective:
http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2009/05/wilson-vs-hitchens-a-catholic-perspective/

Just a sampling. Take a look and let me know what you think.

beng said...

To paraphrase the Apostle: "One of you says, “I follow the pope”; another, “I follow Luther”; another, “I follow Calvin”; still another, “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was the pope crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Luther?"

Paul, Apollos and Cephas were a part of a single community with one faith, one Lord, one baptism.

Nowadays Christians are a part of multiple communities with many faith, many Lords (if we consider the fact that Jehovah's Witnesses and Unitarian have trinitarian baptism but deny Christ's divinity) and many baptism (many Protestants reject Catholic baptism). So the comparison really fails.

"But you said yourselves there are remnant who keep the true faith. Which one? (it goes without saying that this remnant must go back from 2011AD to 33AD)."

Their names are written in the Lamb's Book of Life. I don't claim to know who is and isn't a true believer - only God knows for sure.


Then how do you know that they (the "remnant") exist? How do you know you are the inheritor of their faith? Do you actually know their article of believes (please don't say the Bible, because people of different believes claim that Bible is their sole infallible authority yet come up with contradictory believes)?


It seems that you have never really carefully thought about these things.

Daniel Smith said...

Brian: "you are articulating thoughts that you don't know are incoherent. So only God knows who is a true believer? That means that you don't know that you are a true believer."

That's correct. I may think I'm a true believer, but I may deceive myself. Only God knows for sure. I don't find that incoherent at all. I've spent the better part of my life thinking about these things.

"I think you will be as refreshed when you study historic and orthodox Christianity. I will post again links that I really hope you read:"

I may take a look at your links, (probably not though). There's really not much chance of me becoming a Catholic (unless they suddenly abandon most of what they believe about Mary and praying to the saints!) I was raised a Catholic, I've had countless discussions with Catholics, including priests, about these things. I'm really past the point of convincing on that subject.

Daniel Smith said...

beng: "Paul, Apollos and Cephas were a part of a single community with one faith, one Lord, one baptism. Nowadays Christians are a part of multiple communities with many faith, many Lords [...]and many baptism [...] So the comparison really fails."

There were plenty of schisms and differences of belief even in the early church. Many New Testament passages deal with this - including disagreements between Paul and Peter.

"Then how do you know that they (the "remnant") exist?"

Because God says so.

How do you know you are the inheritor of their faith?

I don't know for sure, I put my faith in the grace and mercy of God and in the sacrifice of Jesus.

"Do you actually know their article of believes"

Why do you keep acting like this is some human institution with "articles of faith" etc? I've explained what it is - a spiritual entity with no man-made articles of faith.

"(please don't say the Bible, because people of different believes claim that Bible is their sole infallible authority yet come up with contradictory believes)"

Precisely why I don't embrace any man-made institution's interpretation of the bible.


"It seems that you have never really carefully thought about these things."

On the contrary, I've spent a lot of time seriously thinking about these things.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

I think the discussion about which Christian theology or which Christian church is the true one is irrelevant, and actually misleading. An idea or an institution works for the truth to the degree it is illuminated by the character of Christ and to the degree it guides one to walk the path of Christ. The issue is to follow Christ, and if a Protestant is guided by her church to follow Christ then she is following the truth. All Christian churches are members of the body of Christ.

Some speak as if the truth was a property of some particular church. But ultimately truth is not a thing to be possessed or even a thing to be thought about or to be learned or to be taught. Truth is the divine person Himself and can only be known by acquaintance. And it’s not like Christ is in one but not in the other church; rather all Christian churches are in Christ. And any church is true and authoritative in that it teaches the path towards Christ.

Dianelos Georgoudis said...

I think the discussion about which Christian theology or which Christian church is the true one is irrelevant, and actually misleading. An idea or an institution works for the truth to the degree it is illuminated by the character of Christ and to the degree it guides one to walk the path of Christ. The issue is to follow Christ, and if a Protestant is guided by her church to follow Christ then she is following the truth. All Christian churches are members of the body of Christ.

Some speak as if the truth was a property of some particular church. But ultimately truth is not a thing to be possessed or even a thing to be thought about or to be learned or to be taught. Truth is the divine person Himself and can only be known by acquaintance. And it’s not like Christ is in one but not in the other church; rather all Christian churches are in Christ. And any church is true and authoritative in that it teaches the path towards Christ.

Daniel Smith said...

Brian,

I started reading this link...

Ecclesial Deism: http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2009/07/ecclesial-deism/

...but got so frustrated with the author's underhanded tactics I could not continue.

He uses a lot of 'bait and switch', 'guilt by association', and 'false equivalencies' in his presentation.

For instance, he starts off by comparing Mormonism to Protestantism. He draws a false equivalency between the two factions based on one similarity: that both reject the Catholic church as the divine authority. What he's doing here is sneaky: he's using a church that most Protestants would call a 'cult' and equating it to Protestantism because of this one similarity. He obviously does this for effect.

What he ignores here is that Mormonism and Catholicism are actually more alike than Mormonism and Protestantism: Both churches hold to extra-biblical dogma; both believe this dogma was passed down by the 'true' succession from the Apostles to a present day hierarchy; for both, that hierarchy includes a leader who speaks with divine authority (the Pope and the Prophet); and both believe that scripture can only be correctly interpreted by their hierarchy. The authority of both churches are rejected by Protestants for these reasons. Yet he finds one similarity between the two churches and lumps them together for effect.

Next, he equates the belief in a universal spiritual church to 'Gnosticism'. This too I found underhanded. Again, as with Mormonism, he presents obvious heretical belief, (the 'bait') and then equates that with a rejection of Catholic authority (the 'switch'.)

Finally, after disparaging those who would hold the bible to be the authority on disputed matters, he then quotes the bible and says this:

"The distinction between these two kinds of faith follows from the distinction between the Gnostic conception of the Church [meaning those that hold to the bible alone as authority] and the biblical conception of the Church [meaning those who reject the bible alone as authority] as a living and hierarchically unified Body." [my italics and comments in brackets.]

I find this amazing!! I actually quit reading at this point. I could go no further. He calls those who hold to the bible "Gnostic", then quotes the bible in order to make the claim that those who hold to extra-biblical teachings are "biblical"!!! An obvious attempt to have his cake and eat it too!

Maybe your other links are better, I don't know. At this point I'm not really interested in anything similar in style to this article.